Review: Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood

Rating

Director
Richard Linklater
Screenplay
Richard Linklater
Length
165 min.
Starring
Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Elijah Smith, Steven Prince, Marco Perella
MPAA Rating
R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use

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Review
Richard Linklater is a fan of philosophical discussions. Boyhood is no different, exploiting an unexpected gimmick of filming the same actors over a span of 12 years, creating a compelling coming of age story about a young boy whose childhood is little different from those many of us experienced growing up.

Ellar Coltrane stars as the boy, Mason. He’s the son of divorced parents played by Patricia Arquette, with whom he lives, and Ethan Hawke, who visits on occasion. His older sister is played by Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei. As Mason ages, his divorced mother marries again, and he discovers the hazards of seemingly wonderful men who take to booze and become horrible people. The one constant male figure in his life is his father who spends less time with him than necessary, while his mother does everything she can to provide for him.

The film runs an overlong two hours and forty-five minutes. When you have so many distinct age ranges to look at, finding a way to cut them together without treating individual segments with disdain is a challenging task. Editor Sandra Adair does a superb job splicing together the various segments and making them feel like a cohesive whole. It’s unlikely that she is to blame for the film dragging in parts as Linklater’s notoriously unconcerned with pacing. He wants his stories to develop naturally, which can make for a tedious slog at times, but is ultimately rewarding.

Like his prior films, Boyhood takes a gimmick and employs it to great effect. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight each explore a compelling relationship between two individuals who met on a train ride in Sunrise and were subsequently married and divorced in subsequent films. His penchant for exploring the limitations of human emotion and the organic way couples interact is compelling. With Boyhood, this tendency wears thin on occasion. It traps its characters in a seeming loop of growth and regression that while ultimately rewarding gets to be a tad frustrating as the film plods on.

Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are much better in their later years than their early ones. This isn’t common when relying on actors who’ve had minimal experience prior to being cast. Look at the triumvirate from the Harry Potter films. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint weren’t that good when they first started, but being surrounded by some of the greatest working actors in Britain, they quickly developed into fine thespians. Coltrane and Linklater don’t have quite that level of support. Hawke and Arquette aren’t even remotely comparable to the likes of Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, Richard Harris or any of the other myriad actors that drifted through the Potter franchise.

That’s not to criticize Hawke’s and Arquette’s performances here. Hawke suffers from an underwritten role, a character that’s absent for a significant portion of the film, and in tandem from his son’s life. That fits into the film’s premise well, but doesn’t give him enough to develop credibly. Arquette, on the other hand, has plenty of opportunities, being the lone constant in her children’s lives. She does exceptionally well, though there are moments where her more explosive emotions don’t quite feel genuine. She’s a terrific actress, but it’s her subdued moments that outshine her bursts of complex emotions.

Linklater’s film is an interesting experiment, one that works surprisingly well considering how the gimmick could have failed miserably. Boyhood has a lot of heart, a lot of philosophical commentary and a lot of interesting segments that are carefully connected and ultimately rewarding. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see another film called Manhood in another dozen years.

Review Written

April 20, 2015

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